Monday, October 25, 2010

Carl Trueman on Luther's 95 Theses

October 31 is Reformation Day. I know some folks think it is Halloween but really it's Reformation Day. So I will be shaving a bald spot on my sons heads and clothing them in the plain brown robes of the Augustinian monks. They will also be equipped with a mallet and a heavily embossed piece of parchment. After that we'll just need to agree on a Catholic church with a particularly prominent front door. I suppose I could try to dress them up like Zwingli or better yet Jan Huss but then people might think we're weird.

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther, then a monk, nailed on the door of the church at Wittenburg his now famous 95 Theses. It was one of the moments credited with igniting the Protestant Reformation.

Thanks to Justin Taylor for posting the following interview with Carl Trueman:

How did that act of nailing these theses to the door ignite the Reformation?

On one level, I am inclined to say “Goodness only knows.” As a pamphlet of popular revolution, it is, with the exception of the occasional rhetorical flourish, a remarkably dull piece of work which requires a reasonably sound knowledge of late medieval Catholic theology and practice even to understand many of its statements. Nevertheless, it seems to have struck a popular chord, being rapidly translated into German and becoming a bestseller within weeks. The easy answer is, therefore, “By the providence of God”; but, as a historian, I always like to try to tie things down to some set of secondary or more materialcauses.

Certainly, it was used in a way that appealed to popular anti-clericalism, resentment of the Roman curia, and a desire to stop money flowing out of German speaking territories to Rome. Yet, even so, the revolutionary power of such a technical composition is, in retrospect, still quite surprising.

For those today who want to read the 95 Theses, what would you recommend?

The place to start is probably Stephen Nichols’s edition (with an introduction and notes).

Nevertheless, if you really want to understand Luther’s theology, and why it is important, you will need to look beyond the Ninety-Five Theses. Probably the best place to start would be Robert Kolb and Charles P. Arand, The Genius of Luther’s Theology.

Read the entire interview HERE.

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